I have now written and deleted three versions of the same post, because I have too much to say, and a lot of it feels like negative content with no real firm place to land. It’s complicated because I know it is coming from a place of vigilance about a collection of people
who are so full of sh*t that it’s actually harmful proliferating rhetoric and ideology that is both incorrect and damaging in both the abstract/community sense and in the personal/individual crazy-making way with that individual being, you know, me.
I think I’m going to focus on a topic I’ve touched on before: the use of ambiguity in language as a form of narrative control.
I’m collecting my thoughts about that, and also giving my emotions a chance to calm the f*ck down because guys, today has been a DAY. But I want to sort of leave myself a note so I can get at the material floating in my brain pain in a cogent way once the waters go still again, and I can hear my truest voice.
I studied philosophy for a long time. There are people who have less than encouraging or positive things to say about my discipline, or devoting one’s life in some manner to revering it. However, it taught me a number of skills and values I would never sacrifice for anything — probably even a debt-free existence. Probably. Good thing no one is putting that option on offer, I guess. One of the things that rigorous philosophical study teaches you is to pay very close attention to words. Precision in language is always something that I have valued, because I adore both clarity and Poïesis. I consider language use to be both utilitarian and also as bildung — that is, as self formation through creative efforts. In fact, that reminds me: one of the things philosophers will do is borrow words that map onto very precise meanings and concepts, using them persistently to make fine distinctions through a sort of sedimentation process in the canon of their works and conversations. Goodman and my personal intellectual hero, Richard Rorty were both excellent at this, and I admire their work tremendously because they illustrate on a small scale how changing the words we use and the precision with which we use them can affect social and ideological change. The TL;DR on that is: the words we use matter, and have ethical force.
As a result, I have a low threshold of tolerance for people using words in a sloppy way, and an even lower one for people using words that carry ethical import in such a way that they deliberately take advantage of colloquial ambiguity to either excuse their own behavior or get the things they want from people. Doing so can read as revolutionary to the less precise. An oft cited example is Ayn Rand’s supposed reclamation of the word “selfish”. Specious equivocation and the deliberate manhandling of the ambiguity of a word (this is sometimes called amphibology) in colloquial use can form a nexus of narrative control through verbal sleight of hand, especially within communities where the written word is backed up by things like cults of personality (often with a blind eye turned away from practical enactment of character over time). A less pedantic way of stating all of that is that there are people in communities whose proliferation of rhetoric is valued in lieu of how they actually behave. Some of those people use language and precision in ways that benefit that community. Some people use the venue of a virtual audience to garner things like support and admiration, and still others have a specific personal agenda. Others still are engaged in some combination of those three or other acts.
I was until recently acquainted with one such person, and the verbal sleight of hand in which that person engages is … troubling. In fairness, I should probably disengage from expending mental and emotional effort reading this person’s writing, but hyper-vigilance is a thing, y’all. This is a person who has hurt me and also people for whom I care, and has engaged in horrifying smear campaigns, responsibility sloughing, victim-blaming, and you know, blackmail. There are other things about which I’m not at liberty to share, because they are not mine, that make me taste bile. Part of me remains a bit morbid about all that, and I know that part of me is waiting for the next shoe on this monstrous beast with so many feet to drop. I think that response is to be expected, given the content of Galactic Collision 2014; but I might be hanging on to that vigilance longer than it will serve me or the others with whom I’m frothing at the mouth to protect, shelter, and phalanx, should it be necessary.
Perhaps I can take some of that protective energy and dismantle the tools and tricks that disguise people who intend to hurt. Perhaps by picking apart the gears that make that sort of rhetoric function, I can discover new ways to discern when toxic people are in our midst. I want there to be some concrete lessons here, and I aim to find them.